Review: Colorfully animated ‘The Wild Life’ is light on heart
The story of Robinson Crusoe, loosely based on the real-life experiences of castaway Alexander Selkirk, has been told multiple times since Daniel Defoe’s 1719 epistolary novel. But what if it were related from the perspective of the animals and local wildlife he encountered during his shipwrecked stay on a tropical island? That’s what the animated feature “The Wild Life,” directed by Vincent Kesteloot, imagines.
“The Wild Life,” produced by Belgian animation studio nWave Pictures, has a different feel than most of the joke-driven animated features produced stateside. There’s much more of a historical action-adventure story line in Crusoe’s narrative, as related by curious parrot Mak (David Howard), or Tuesday, as Crusoe calls him.
Intrepid English cartographer Crusoe (Yuri Lowenthal) and his dog Aynsley (Doug Stone) are shipwrecked by a storm on a tiny speck of an island. Struggling to survive, Crusoe soon befriends the curious Tuesday and his skeptical group of exotic animal pals, including a chameleon, a hedgehog, a tapir, a goat, a pangolin and a very suspicious sea bird. They band together to fight off the ship’s nasty stray cats, or “ratters,” which survived the wreck and are hell-bent on revenge and/or hunting the animals for a snack.
Some of the animation elements are very impressive — roiling waves during a storm, crystal-clear waters and whipping jungle leaves are rendered almost photo realistically. The animals are also excellently designed, particularly Pango the pangolin and Epi the hedgehog, who roll themselves into tight balls for speed of movement. The camera plunges through the chambers of Crusoe’s tree house and throughout caves and along a water slide during chase scenes that are incredibly well-staged and crafted, if a bit unengaging.
That’s a bit of a problem with the entire film. Without much humor, and with a very straightforward story, there isn’t a lot to hook you, leaving one a bit cold toward the characters. There’s a message about accepting outsiders without judgment and working together as a team, and some strange subtext about a primitive island life versus a civilized one (involving guns, weapons and economic exploitation — a pirate’s life, indeed!), but it’s all presented without much complication, aside from those pesky cats, an easy villain.
While the animal characters are fun to watch, the humans are a bit stiffer. Crusoe is the most fluid and well-characterized, a gangly ginger who soon turns into a sunburned wild man with a bushy mop of hair and a beard. The pirates he encounters are a ruthless, bloodthirsty and swashbuckling bunch, but they’re far less intriguing and engaging than the animals, possibly because the artifice is more obvious.
“The Wild Life” is a family-friendly take on the story of Crusoe, with a twist, and kids no doubt will be drawn to the colorful animal characters, but there’s a lack of emotional connection that makes the film just another cartoon flick, not a special favorite or animated classic.
‘The Wild Life’
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA rating: PG, for mild action/peril and some rude humor
Playing: In general release
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